A week ago, Kepa Arrizabalaga was the pantomime villain of Stamford Bridge.
Playing in the first final of his career in the League Cup against Manchester City, Chelsea’s goalkeeper refused to be substituted in the dying minutes of extra times, and ended up staying on the pitch contrary to Maurizio Sarri’s command as the Blues lost 4-3 on penalties.
His act of defiance caused outrage, and the next week he was fined a week’s worth of wages and dropped for Chelsea’s huge 2-0 derby win over rivals Tottenham. After a challenging week for the 24-year-old, he was reinstated in goal for the short trip to Fulham- Arrizabalaga returned with a point to make.
The Spaniard produced a Man of a Match performance at Craven Cottage, pulling off a string of outstanding saves to help Chelsea to a 2-1 win. He showed everyone why he is Chelsea’s number one and why they spent a record £71 million on him last summer, but he did more than just that.
Arrizabalaga has been under a huge amount of pressure since the Wembley saga, and clearly made a severe lapse of his judgement. He was frankly always going to return to the starting lineup, but everyone knew how crucial his return would be.
For a young goalkeeper to follow up possibly the most controversial, challenging week of his short career with arguably one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt is something to congratulate, especially with the pressure of being first choice and the most expensive goalkeeper in the world.
For any goalkeeper, the pressure is paramount. But in Arrizabalaga’s circumstances he needed to prove himself and regain the trust and support of all Chelsea fans. At a club where second chances are scarce and the demand for quality is high, he had to show everyone why he deserves to play for Chelsea after being culprit for losing a cup final.
Arrizabalaga made a huge mistake at Wembley, but he had to show the right mentality and desire to put it behind him and bounce back when his side needed him. Sarri could’ve easily dropped him for the rest of the season after how the Spaniard embarrassed him and defied his authority, but he believed in him and was willing to forgive.
To look at the positive of the week-long saga, it will surely have taught him an invaluable lesson. It will have shown him what happens when there is a lack of authority and its consequences, but also how to stay resilient and return under immense pressure. Sure, it painted a bad light on Arrizabalaga, Sarri and the whole of the club, but it will surely have taught the 24-year-old a key lesson that could make him even better for the years to come.
It was a bitter pill to swallow but surely one that will benefit Arrizabalaga for the rest of his career, and to use a cliché learning from your mistakes is the best way to learn. Hopefully, when he retires at the end of a trophyladen career, he’ll look back on this chapter of his career with glee, relishing the lesson he learned in the face of adversity.